{Where to Start} When There Seems To Be No Give

There has always been something.

To set me apart, to make me feel different, to weigh me down in a way that I was sure that other light-footed women weren’t and to remind me that an invigorating life (the kind that fills your lungs yet leaves you with space for more) evades me.

I’d find myself thinking: why does this always happen to me, as I looked at women who sailed through life’s mile-markers with poise and sassy shoes and advice for the rest of us who couldn’t or didn’t.

But I only looked at them long enough to presume, to fuel my frustrated looks of comparison back at myself and my own story.

Had I looked longer, I may have noticed more similarities than differences.

We all have that something, that nagging thing that leaves us thinking: if this thing [insert yours here] would just change, I could get my full eight hours of sleep and feel the words I sing in worship and touch joy, not just put it on a sign in my house.

In my twenties, it was an empty womb and an empty bank account and a marriage that landed us in a counselor’s office. Turning the corner on thirty it was a father with brain cancer and a delayed adoption. We brought our two home from Africa and it turned, quickly, to managing life with … two! We adopted two more and I was sure having four children, in such a short amount of time, was the equivalent of training for the Navy Seals. Then, when I’d see women with four children who had somehow managed a shower and I was certain it was adoption that made it a feat for me to get dressed – four children with broken histories, that was the thing.

And those are just the broad strokes. When we couldn’t pay the bills I wanted my husband to crawl right out of entrepreneurship so I could sleep at night and when my children had health issues I thought the end of trouble-shooting those mysteries would give me breathing space.

It was always something.

Something that I called circumstance and that {continue reading over here —>}



Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

The Secret to Staying in Love

Fourteen years ago today, it felt like I might has well have been twelve and was spending my parents’ savings on a new bike. I had little life experience but was full of zeal and opinions and somehow I found a husband who would accept all of that.

So, instead of twelve I’d crested into my twenties and my parents had given me a dollar amount to pay for my wedding.

I may have handled a bike better.

We were young in heart, wearing big kids’ clothes at Christ Church on that day. I thought I’d fallen in love ’cause I found someone who would carry my secrets, tenderly, and wouldn’t leave me.

It really was my most beautiful day ever, witnessed by all my closest family and friends, and we had nothing to say to one another but gentle love notes spoken like phrases of an inside joke in between the clanking glasses. We said our vows before a crowd of three hundred and whispered secrets to one another about our dreams, late into the night. This was my first taste of married life.


I now had someone to hold my secrets, to see even the hidden parts of me and not to leave. The pent-up valve of what-do-I-do-with-this-inner-traffic was released and I told him everything, without filter. I unlocked not only the thoughts about me that I hadn’t realized were tucked away — but also my unfettered opinions of him. I supposed that my steel (the steel of my unrefined youth, that is) was intended to sharpen the jagged parts of his own iron.

Marriage was going to make us better. Stronger. And information, generously shared, about our flaws and weaknesses and “areas for growth” was interchangeable in my mind with the power to grow.

Cherish Wood

Except he didn’t like that so much.

My inner thoughts about him weren’t often welcomed (nor were they usually delivered with care) and I hadn’t thought that the one bringing a gift might should consider the packaging. It was a gift, after-all, to give this man the input I had about his life.


The marriage-whispers began to peter. I didn’t want to share the innermost parts of me with one who didn’t want to also hear my feedback about him.

I withheld — stubborn, but God was merciful.

The obstinance of this fresh bride was what God used to show me another kind of marriage-whisper, another kind of secret.

I had a hearing with God, the kind Father who knew I held opinions without much weight and an immaturity that needed tapering. He fielded my in-the-middle-of-the-night whispers (that started mostly as fret) and turned them, over time, into trusted secrets. God worked the muscle of leaning on my insides as I held my tongue in public but poured out myself in private, with Him — all about my heart, my marriage and my man.

God became safer to me than even the boy who gave me his name and his paycheck and his youthful-but-real promise. My marriage now involved three. Functionally. At times, the greatest love affair was my secret conversation with God about that boy.


I filled notebooks with God’s Word to pray about my husband and was interrupted when His secrets were shared — for me to pray back. Our conversation was not one-sided. Years of confiding in God, and stuffing a cork into my otherwise running mouth, gave me an inroad to hear and not just to speak.

I was falling in love with Nate, and not just over late-night conversations and spontaneous dates and izze’s, shared under June’s swelling sky.

I was falling in love with Nate as I talked to God about him.

Hey you — new bride or wife celebrating a decade or woman just needing a jumpstart,

Have you started telling secrets to God about that one who has more-than-quirks you can’t quite get over? It’s never to late for a love affair.

If the horizontal seems to be stunted — or if you’re just drooling a bit for more out of marriage than a shared bank account and calendar or even missions trips — maybe it’s time to go vertical.

Could it be that marriage is your school of prayer? 

We don’t just need to stuff those things we see and feel and discern about our husbands so that our homes can be peaceable. They’re intended to be carried right back to GodHe works out and in, in those conversations.

If conversation with God seems laborious or just like another task on your list — it’s possible your marriage is right there too. Remember that dress, fitted perfectly to your frame, and your ring on those manicured hands and the way he looked at you that day and remind yourself that you were made for fiery love.

And here’s the biggest secret: that fire starts when no one is looking, not even your man. If it’s gonna last, the fire has to be vertical — just between you and God — first.

Let’s get alone and revive.

It’s time to talk secrets with God.

Book on Swing MJ

And for the seasoned bride — the one who is counseling young ones and pulling her perhaps-yellowed dress out of storage for her daughters and is commemorating decades, 

Is it time to go to new places in prayer for your man? To ask things you’ve not asked before and be willing to unlock new closets of your heart and his while you hold your hands open to field God’s secrets about that no-longer-youthful groom? 

The end is better than the beginning when God is fueling the conversation. Advanced years can translate into advanced secrets, shared, with God.

Lead the rest of us into the heart of God by how you are unrelenting in asking for the fully-surrendered heart of your man. (We’re watching. We’re learning from you.)

Pearls Cherish

Our dreams for our husbands are far too small.

Tapping in to the currency of God — prayer — takes the ceiling off of who they can be in Him.

Nate Hagerty, Happy fourteen years of sharing way more than a sink. You’ve become far more of the husband than I ever knew I needed or wanted when I met you at the end of that long aisle all those years ago. Thank you for enduring my youthful obstinance — instead of moving to the corner of the roof as would have been justified. Now, look at you: the ceiling is off. 

You sure have given me a lot of material for my conversations with God … (wink).


The photographers: Lucy O Photo, Cherish Andrea Photography, Seeing Joy, and Aspen Photography (circa 2001). 

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

A Love That Isn’t Loud

Fifteen years ago, I heard a whisper on my insides: you’re gonna marry that boy. One quiet day at the creek — quiet enough for me to hear the methodical splash of the rower’s ores and a dove’s  distant call … and a whisper — and everything changed. I’d never been in love before and didn’t quite expect this kind of preceding introduction before falling into it. I hadn’t even had a chance to try on the feeling. (I wouldn’t advise this method for my daughters — but sometimes you live a story you don’t think others should try at home.)

But boy did we feel, that boy and I.

Cherish Shoes

For the first few years, I wondered when I might stop feeling. I was befuddled by who I turned into when things between us didn’t go my way. How was I twenty-four and had never seen these sides of myself? I was angered when he didn’t approach life like I did, but felt the sweet sense of home in sharing long weekend mornings and late-night ice cream splurges during the pockets of life into which you don’t normally invite others. I was disappointed at a seeming lack of newlywed bliss and saddened by the loss of my independence. At the same time, I felt a measure of peace in the new release-valve I’d found for my interior life: this person who was learning to receive all of me.

I spent years feeling and falling in and out of affection with the person I’d committed to love with my life.

Love was loud, then.

We said it took work as if work took on only one form: active labor.

We did heart-work sitting on the couch in a counselor’s office and staying up later than normal to finish a conflict that started in the morning. We worked — we labored — saving money we didn’t have to make an anniversary trip happen. I listed items on ebay in order to make money to buy him a fishing rod. I spent weeks preparing for a surprise camping trip for his birthday and he spent long days painting our first home a color that he didn’t like but that I loved. We worked at love in ways that could be memorialized and remembered and love was loud. And we felt it all.

Logs Cherish

That loud love which was measured by above-ground labor and a torrent of feelings has slowly morphed into a love that is now marked more by the five minutes he spends, first thing, at the sink doing dishes, right after he comes home sweaty from the gym, and by the hand that holds mine across three children’s backs while at church. Like my children’s growth spurts (where they happen and I miss them until two seasons later and they’re back in pants that are inches too short), this love shifted.

And to grow in love — to keep falling in love — I have to shift with it.

This week, I don’t feel those 34 turbulent emotions about my marriage — and I’m planning an eight year-old’s birthday party this year, not a surprise weekend camping trip for my husband where we’ll have nothing but time together. But I walked the circle in front of our house last night, asking God to open new parts of Nate’s heart and I whispered “you’re a great dad” to him as he coached our son through assembling a bench. I held his hand in the car, with children screeching over a spilled smoothie in the back.

My marriage and my walk with God are comprised of a hundred little moments over a week that are opportunities to catch a spark and start a interior fire — and a hundred little diversions that could allure me into subtly believing there is a ceiling on love that isn’t loud.

Piano Cherish

I can wait until the next “big thing” to fall in love — the next conference, the next grand idea to change the world, the next catastrophe that makes me fall flat on my face, crying out to God — or I can tell myself, right now: a wild falling in love with God happens over the quiet minutes.

This is adoration, for me.

Window Door Cherish

Adoration is seeing His word as a formative part of my life and thoughts — at 7:30am and 2:53pm and 10:32 before bed. Adoration is speaking God’s Word back to Him, all the while realizing how little I actually believe it and how much I need to cling to it. Adoration is the honest reckoning of my interior life where I acknowledge there is a great dissonance between what His Word says about Him and what I believe about Him when the car stalls out on the highway.

Adoration starts with this grand (but often subtle) admission: there’s a whole lot about Your Word that I’ll put up on my walls and tweet about and say in a conversation that I don’t really believe here, deep on the inside.

And it moves me into replacing those newly-identified (but maybe always having been present) toxic thoughts with the only thing that will change a human heart: the Truth of this beautiful God-Man. His Word. (And the wind of His Spirit that comes when we invite His Word to be bigger than our toxic human logic.)

Adoration is for when my child puts her foot through the less-than-year-old painted wall and I find myself saying under my breath “these kids are ruining my order” and God nudges me to look at what’s revealed in that moment about who I really believe Him to be.

Adoration is for when my friend breathes air on support in the ICU and takes in food through a tube while I remember dozens of conversations we had about her dreams for her family and I’m confused and scared — and God whispers: who do you say that I am in this moment?

Adoration is for when the dishwasher stops working on the same day the hospital bill arrives and there’s no room in the budget for either. Adoration is for when your insides feel hollow — bored — and you’re finally sick of scrolling your feed through others’ exciting lives.

Adoration is for when you remember the fire you once had for God that’s now barely a flaming ember and you finally muster the ask: is there more of You, God, than what I’m experiencing?

Adoration is for Monday morning at the same old job and Friday night at home, alone.

Tea Cup Cherish

All those buried thoughts about God that we spend so much of our lives carefully pretending aren’t there are meant to come up and out. And then to be expunged.

You’re not too old (or too young), too tired, too worn, or too boring to fall wildly in love with God.

Just like you don’t want to wait until your 15 year anniversary trip when the love is loud, but instead you reach across the cluttered console of your mini-van and grab his hand and say let’s stoke this ember until it becomes a fire:

Grab His hand too.

Adore God, right here.


Join us over here as we adore Him. Wanna read more about adoration, try these: The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk & How to Really Fall in Love.

It’s the kind of habit that’s best started in the middle of the month, in the middle of a transitional season, when it’s unplanned. He loves to show up in our very-weak lean. Jump in with us for August:

I’m years into this habit and just this week I’ve been telling my fickle soul, again, who God is and how He sees me and finding new oxygen there. When I put His Word in my mouth something shifts. Every time. The habit of adoration isn’t some grandiose system, it’s the minute-by-minute winning over of my otherwise-negative (read: otherwise-toxic) thoughts and expectations and perspective back to God’s Truth.  This month we’re adoring Him through the book of John. Perhaps it’s your month to move from scrolling this feed to engaging in adoration? #adoration #augustadoration

Photos thanks to my sweet friend Cherish

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

The Gift of Mistreatment

I hadn’t even finished college when I had the conversation that would be the first in a string of ones like it stretching through my adulthood.

I didn’t realize it then: this conversation was a rite of passage.

We sat across from one another over a scheduled breakfast that I’d walked into with a lump in my throat. I was on guard, the person across from me accusing. I masked my defensive fisticuffs in casual explanations and practiced smiles, hoping the nervous warbling in my throat wasn’t heard above the clanking of servers delivering plates at this greasy spoon. My breakfast companion was quick-witted and spoke callously but pointedly. This person had a mouth full of words, not ears to hear me. I’d lost the discussion-turned-argument before I walked in the door.

And my young-heart had been mis-handled.

Chains MJ

Years later revealed the judgment was incorrect, but in that moment I hadn’t lived the years that would make this understanding a part of my history. I only had the ache of being misunderstood, mis-labeled.

I left the conversation that morning but it didn’t leave me for a long time. I never saw this person after college, but our exchange was on repeat in my young-in-God mind. Sometimes when I replayed it, I believed this person’s assessments about me and the decisions I’d made about my future; I joined in their accusations of me. And other times I became the courageous defender in my mind, saying all the things I didn’t have the wits or response-time to say in the moment.

It was either one or the other, back then: receive another’s indictment as full-truth or staunchly defend my person.

I didn’t know then that a heart didn’t have to be badgered, knocked around, and permanently wounded at the hands of another’s assessments, but that the strife which mis-judgment and mistreatment brought to one’s insides could be the fastest way to grow a human heart up in God.

Fence Post MJ

This breakfast was my warm-up.

Two decades and several job changes and five children later, the waves of misunderstanding and misjudgment that have come when human lives crash against one another have turned into the greatest working-out of my inner dialogue with God and His Word.

How do You see me God? isn’t a question we really need to ask when the world treats us as we feel we deserve.

Who am I, from Your perspective? isn’t a game-changing conversation when the relational mirrors around us make us feel good.

How do You see me God? isn’t a question we really need to ask when the world treats us as we feel we deserve.

“Turn the other cheek to him also” is merely a sing-songy children’s tune that hangs out in our minds when we don’t get alone and ask God for His eyes for the one who is opposing the parts of us that we hold close and for His eyes for the parts of us that feel misunderstood.

Those five little verses — possibly the hardest ones to follow for even the most fervent — were given by the Servant Leader who knew (with His blood that pooled at the bottom of the cross) that those sweet, hidden conversations with the Father were the fire that would give us the moxie to live them out.


I want to fight back. Defend. Bring my justice. I want people in my circle to bend a sympathetic ear to my having been wronged.

But when I’m faced with another whose eye on my life isn’t the whole of me, I get to ask God who I am. When I’m under the human finger of mistreatment, out of place and horribly mis-timed, I get to carve a space in my closet where only One voice matters. When another’s calloused hands run rough-shod over what’s tender in me, I get to scoot up next to the One whose hands formed me.

Those who mistreat us become the ones we can’t help but love when we realize what their opposition does to our human hearts.

The opposition of another helps me dredge the way through my mucky insides right up into seeing His eyes.

Screen with hole

(And sometimes when I’m under His kind eyes which make repentance sweet, I see that my opponent isn’t all that wrong. And I’m not all that right. The real battle isn’t for a winner, but for new places of my heart to be won towards His gentle perspective on me.)


Several years ago on my birthday we took the whole family out to dinner. With a young crew and a bank account freshly depleted from adoptions, a dinner out was no small thing. I felt my age, this particular year, but wore all the expectation of an eight year-old on her birthday. This meal — this time for which I was showered and dolled and the children had been prepped about how this night was not about them — was gonna be good. I wasn’t wearing an apron.

We arrived, early for the dinner rush, and were seated in a nearly-empty restaurant — me, in the birthday glow that was charged with the vapor-like perfection of my children who’d been coached. They shuffled the wait staff, momentarily. The new waitress assigned to our table was unhappy at “hello.” She rolled her eyes at our requests, muttered under her breath and placed our drinks on the table as if they were stamps on a stamp pad.

When the calloused hands of another’s handling runs rough-shod over what’s tender in me, I get to scoot up next to the One whose hands formed me.

She didn’t know I’d chosen this restaurant on my day to be celebrated. She didn’t know I’d already dished up 8 meals that day (not including mine), and showered each of my children before getting there. We’d even clipped all sets of nails. Toe nails.

She had her own story roiling around behind that drink tray that must have happened all before our 5pm arrival.

In between drink refills, we whispered to our usually-oblivious children who’d widened their eyes to our waitress’s undeniable irritation: this is where we practice God’s love. It was game-time for little hearts and just a small prick of a reminder for big ones who’d weathered more than just a disgruntled waitress.

They smiled big and called her ma’am and used a rarely-matched level of manners.

Nate left her that night with double his standard tip and told the children about it. They had a little story to latch onto, early, for when their slightly-older lives are tempted to lock jaws and raise fists and defend. It was easy for them — and for us — to see it all so clearly this night. This waitress had no emotional hook in our hearts.

But what about when the hook is there?


The ones who oppose us when we really need championing are the ones who send us into the hidden conversations with God that change us. He champions us like no human can.

Those who oppose me have given me new fodder for conversation with the God who sees the minutes of my life that no one else sees.

Those who have misjudged me are turning me into a daughter — yup, a daughter who comes to her Daddy in a whole new kind of needy way when she’s been mistreated.

I can bless those who curse me because of how He whispers to me when I’m mistreated.

They gave me a gift, with their mistreatment.

Why wouldn’t I give them my other cheek, my favorite coat, my tired extra mile?

Road Mountains Cherish


For Your Continued Pursuit: (I invite you to dig. in. here.) Matthew 5:11 | Matthew 5:38-48 | Isaiah 53:5 | Luke 6:27-36

First five photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Sixth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

When You Stop Being Invulnerable

A friend (who’d worked at length with children) watched the two of them play innocently in the one small section of the waiting room where we’d told them they could unpack their tote of just a few toys. We’d described to him their first few months at home with with us and he witnessed what we’d said and more. They played without fear and securely under our boundaries, even though we’d not been within immediate reach. They took delight in simple trinkets, but even more in one another, as ones who were already siblings before they became our family. Neither set of eyes was dull, but alive.

“There’s a word for that,” he said. “They are ‘invulnerables’.”

He spoke to what we’d presumed. They were untouchable, unadulterated by loss that had shrouded the years before they could even walk. Our children — former orphans — had been preserved.

And I was relieved.

We’d said ‘yes’ to them knowing what the books said about the possible implications of loss and brokenness, but we hung on to optimism more than we did hope — because optimism is often marked by naiveté, but hope is forged. (We were too new at this to have forged real hope.) She’d always fight for her little brother and lean into me as mommy. He would trust. Their eyes would always be bright with expectation. They were the rare kind of “normal” that gets produced out of abnormality. I thought for sure.

Phew. Both Nate and I knew I wasn’t cut out for layered pain as a new mom. So we called them The Invulnerables and I exhaled.

Until one day we couldn’t anymore.


Growth and time and siblings added to the mix revealed worn edges that two-on-two hadn’t. One struggled to trust. Another to lean in. The brightness in their eyes waned, for a time. A little bit of pressing and we saw tired years behind those wide-smiles and flickering eyes. Life had, in fact, worked them over before we held them for the first time. They weren’t as invulnerable as they once appeared.

{But really — is anyone?}


I cringe, later, at what I’d call an over-share with a new friend sipping coffee. She wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready to say all that. I blush when my child says that thing in that way in public. I don’t want to send the text for the third day in a row that begs “I need prayer” and I feel slightly naked before the friend with two older (read: more composed) children, who stops by unexpectedly and sees my wreck of a house at 3pm on a Tuesday.

I resent the tears I cry over missing my Dad in the middle of someone else’s birthday dinner when I’m reminded that he’s gone.

Who, really, doesn’t want be an ‘invulnerable’?

Most of us have let life and humanity train us into thinking that vulnerability is to be avoided — in us and in others. It’s toxic. We’ve bought into the lie that exposure of the heart — in even the smallest of ways — only brings pain.

The one who makes that 9pm crisis call to friends to say “our marriage is stuck, can we come over and get some help?” wakes up to a morning-after “why didn’t we just resolve it ourselves?” gulp of shame. The 50 year-old woman who musters courage to whisper to her decade-old Bible study group “I’d still like to be married. Would you pray that God would give me a husband?” leaves that night feeling foolish for putting herself out there. The 25 year-old wanna-be songwriter sings the first song he wrote, passionately, before he steps off the stage and makes a promise to himself to never take a risk like that again. The mother of that baby in the NICU — whom the doctors said wouldn’t make it — works up a prayer for healing and asks others to pray with her, only to wish she’d just accepted her lot as the reality of that exposed prayer creeps in and over her. What’s it gonna feel like if He doesn’t “come through”? What will they say about me and my wild prayers? she thinks.

We’d all like to climb out of those few circumstances that somehow slip past the gate of invulnerability we so fiercely guard because we’ve only been trained to know the downside of vulnerability — the human side of vulnerability.

Branch Water MJ

When the first two we adopted stopped living so seamlessly in our world — no longer without a bump or blemish — I coiled. I’d built an understanding of us as family that required them to be invulnerable. They were smooth, easy, and I was safe and unexposed. During those first months after we got our second two children and when the bumps and blemishes began to surface in our first two children, I was terrified. My heart had attached safety to invulnerability and I was now unsafe, by my metric. Their vulnerability — the fact that their past had impacted them in ways I couldn’t easily tidy up — made me feel vulnerable.And I didn’t know what to do with that.

I didn’t know what to do with vulnerability.

It wasn’t all that different than the walk to the car after my “overshare” with a new friend or the way I felt after leaving a baby shower where my barren womb was noted … or when it wasn’t.

Vulnerability shuts down the systems of self-defense we create around our manicured lives.

And vulnerability, to God, is beautiful.

It’s His currency.

Flower Cherish

I form a language about God and nearness and tenderness, but I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it independent from my own vulnerability. I talk of Him as a kind Father and a gentle leader, but that language rarely moves to reality without some level of uncomfortable exposure in my heart. I pray for “more of God” but I rarely grow in personal, intimate understanding of Him without, first, wearing the kind of vulnerability that I seem to spend most of my time avoiding.

The invulnerables are impenetrable.

And those who learn to re-set their system in the face of vulnerability — to turn to Him and bury their otherwise-shamed faces in His chest — are the ones into which He reaches. They’re the ones who grow.

I want to be them.

Daisies MJ

I want to make the call to a friend at midnight because I need help, and turn to Him the next morning when my shame tells me otherwise.

I want to send a dozen texts for prayer and find out how safe it feels to curl up in His lap when that voice in my head tells me I’m a burden in my weakness.

I want to write a book (another one!) that exposes layers of my heart and life I’d feel safer not sharing and see Him wildly celebrating my partnership with Him when my heart starts to shrink back in fear.

I want to pray for my once-barren womb to open again, even past 40.

If the naked exposure of my vulnerability before God means I get to not just see but smell Him and touch Him and be held by Him, I’ll take it.


For Your Continued Pursuit (cause I don’t want you to just take my word for it): 2 Corinthians 4:7 | Psalm 22 | Psalm 34:18 | Isaiah 42:3 | Psalm 31:1-2 | Romans 8:1

The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

First through fourth pictures compliments of Mandie Joy. Fifth picture compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.


What Wonder Can Do for the Human Heart

Summer is about wonder.

I grew up knowing summer to be the pungent smell of saltwater air that envelops the east coast oceanfront towns.

We spent only one week per year at the beach, but my memory of those weeks overshadows swim lessons and day camps and bike rides to the neighborhood pool. Grains of sand embedded themselves in the seat of my bathing suit all summer as a reminder of the week when we rode the waves of the ocean until my mom called us in for dinner.

The summer after I asked Jesus into my heart, I couldn’t wait to get back to the beach — it was as if the air was thinner there.

I could talk to God more freely sitting on the sand floor (that He made) and under the intangible sky (that only His hands have touched). He’d been there all along, but this year I wanted to hear from Him.

Everything was {I’m writing over here today. Pop on over to keep reading —>}

Fatherless on Father’s Day {a note to my dad}

Dear Dad,

I once heard a set of parents say that they wanted their ceiling to be their children’s floor. If you’d heard that, too, you would have said it. You lived it.

Though your body was broken for about as many years of my life as not, I think I’ll always remember you as you were when you were 40. Saturday mornings, covered in the after-sweat of hours of tennis with John Engel, jogging with me around the neighborhood (when I was just learning to run for sport and not because I was being chased ), and being “cool Coach Welter” under the fluorescent lights of St. Joseph’s brand new gymnasium. That’s how I remember you, Dad.

Cherish Dad

Even after the time when girls start to hold secrets inside, I told you everything. Our stiff living room furniture absorbed conversations that were supple. My heart was safe with you, Dad. You normalized me.

Then, age fifteen brought with it — for me — a new understanding of God. My fifteen year-old heart was finally able to decide that I didn’t want to just acknowledge His existence, but I wanted to know Him and allow myself to see that I was known by Him. I fell in love at fifteen, Daddy — the same year you began to die to lifelong dreams as your body gave way underneath you. The vigor of your youth was slipping through your fingers like sand, that year I found God.

Dad Daughter Cherish

And the living room couch still absorbed our conversations, except now you were skeptical — sometimes curious — and I was fiery. How can’t you see? I thought, wondering why you could acknowledge God’s existence but not climb into His lap. Jesus was still historical, for you, the history-lover.

But you taught me to wait with your life, Dad. It was just passive, this time.

For years, you had taught me with your words and your actions to pursue my dreams and to not shrink back and to make an impact on the world around me. You taught me to run hard, Dad, just like you did with your life. A cause with YOUR name on it meant that it would be made known. You made the overlooked famous and showed us kids what it meant to love the unlovely. You made a mark.

But Dad, what you taught me when your body broke and you didn’t have any more words is what has changed my life.

You made your ceiling my floor in the darkest days of your life.

I waited on God, for you, Dad. Not patiently. But I waited. I prayed prayers over years for your heart. I labeled you stubborn but you were really just pensive and thoughtful. You saw more life and pain in your fifty and sixty years than I’d yet known in my twenty. You had more questions of God. I pushed and tapped my toe against the floorboards, anxiously, while God was having His perfect way with you.

… while God was having His perfect way with me.Isaac Cherish

That night Nate called me in to pray with the two of you and I knelt on the floor beside the chair (that I’m sure still has a permanent imprint of your figure), made the decades seem like months and the years seem like days. Your “yes” to Jesus that night was perfectly timed. He knew when He looked at my fifteen year-old heart, full of vim and vigor, that I’d get formed in that fifteen years of waiting for you to say “yes” to Him.

He also knew that your soul was about to go home.

And that’s when your ceiling became my floor, Dad. In God.


How do I say thank you for teaching me, with your life — lived and died — that God will father me when the sun sets on my external life? 


God became a whole new kind of father to me, Dad, when you died.

You primed me to receive a loving Father, by the way you made me safe and then you left a gaping hole that my heart so desperately needed in order for me to know Him more. You ushered me into His chest, Dad, by your life.

And you ushered me into His chest by your death.

Death has no sting when God fathers.

(The gaps that our broken fathers and mothers leave are opportunities for God to uniquely and tenderly parent our weak hearts. One day — instead of wincing or avoiding to look at those painful gaps — our cry might just be: thank you, God, for how you gloriously repurposed, not just patched, those gaps from our parents’ broken lives.)

Here I am, now, staring daily down the corridors of my children’s almond eyes that hold a once-fatherlessness behind them — and I show them what you showed me, with your life and with your death: God comes in the ache and the gaps. And He breathes. Right there. He scoots near. He presses His once-flesh against our bleeding wounds and He heals hearts, even when bodies hang in the balance.


The place where you left me with the biggest gap, Dad, has become the place where God’s glory shines the most through me. (This book is not just my story, Daddy, but it’s yours.)

Your ceiling became my floor, Dad. When you and I both least expected it.

I love you,


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

(Second two photos courtesy of Cherish Andrea; All others, but last, courtesy of Mandie Joy.)

How to Love a Man

Dear husband — it’s not just them whom you’ve trapped in wonder.

They’ll make you cards and sing songs to which they’ve forgotten half the words and climb all over you first thing Sunday morning to wish you Happy Father’s Day, but I’m the one who sees what seven and nine and eleven year-old eyes are too young to catch.

Father’s Day is my day, for you, too. I might just take credit for the way you hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands and don’t bruise them. Because you practiced, first, on mine.

Marriage can make a man into a true father.

Hands MJ4

Marriage might have made a father out of you.

My ten year-old heart — dressed up in a twenty-four year old body — learned what not to do before I ever even tasted what strong love from a weak wife could do to a man.

Sometimes you have to have a history of what not to do before the doing becomes something driven more by your heart than the playbook.

So I mastered what not to do.

You came to me with your eyes studying the floorboards and put the bloodiest part of yourself right out there in front of me — in a whisper because something about secret-keeping makes you feel safer when it’s finally let out in a whisper — and I fumed. I stormed. Right past your heart with eyes fixed on your actions, I lost you for what you did, not who you were inside. A husband, to me, was measured by what he did, not what his heart desired. A man who did what he didn’t want to do: you weren’t the exception I wanted you to be. (But He was forming you into one who was exceptional, even then.)

And I continued to master what not to do.

You got back up. Bloodied and stained, your hunger grew. And though everything in you resisted weakness in front of a women who lived expecting strength to be born, not forged, in a man — you did what few twenty-somethings could do and you lived, weak, before me. You were broken and I was stiff. I ran roughshod over your weak spots and nagged you to clean yourself up. I looked at the outside of you, but He was forming you in the hiding place, then. You learned His voice when my lips were pursed.

And I continued to master what not to do.

Measuring Stick

I made a mental scroll of your failings and called them my prayer list. I joined the band of women interceding for their husbands and forgot that there was a whole lot of me that needed intercession. Life would be good and right and easy if you’d just grow — my way, I thought. I fixed eyes on what you weren’t, all the while — right underneath my nose — He was telling you who you were. (A man who hears from His Father who he really is is a force to be reckoned with.)

Husband, you were being shaped into a father when I wasn’t looking, all before you had a child to call you daddy.

I wanted outward strength and He tenderized your insides.

I wanted perfection and He produced a glory in your weakness that even the best of the world can’t hold a flame to.

I wanted you to be just like me and He took me to the school of who I really was when you wouldn’t bend to my way.

In mastering what not to do I, then, learned how to love a man.


The best fathers hold fledgling hearts in calloused hands without bruising them, because their own hearts had been given permission to be amateurs in the hands of a very safe God. In a world that tells twenty-somethings that they need to conquer and thirty-somethings that they need a big fat bank account and a following and impact and forty-somethings that they need external stability (whatever that moving target might be), the twenty-eight year old husband — the forty-three year old dad — needs permission to bleed.

A man who learns he can bleed — who learns he must bleed — finds the blood of God’s Son to be his only safety.

It’s in walking through weakness and finding the Father’s eyes on them, there, that boys become men.


You found His eyes, husband — you’ve developed a pattern that started with minutes and rolled into days and months and has now become years into a decade where you’re every day finding His eyes towards you.

You’ve taken eyes off of all you’re not and placed them on all He is and you’ve became a father, right there.

For this next stretch, I’m “in” … k?

Bring your bleeding heart to my kitchen floor and I’ll hold it.

Whisper your weaknesses to me in the dark when the pillows we’ve had since I unwrapped them at a bridal shower absorb your tears and mine.

Ask me for that list — you know, the one I’m making throughout my day as I talk to Him about how He sees you.

Push me to change — to put on big girl pants and be the one who asks, first, what is it in me, Father, that needs changing?

And maybe I’ll learn how to be a mother, right here. You and I, together with a couple of kids, fumbling — bleeding — but hungry for a God who gives us a swift brush with the supernatural in the context of weakness.

Happy father’s day, husband.

Girls Nate MJ


The book: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet (Zondervan) is available here.

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

(note: if reading this in an email reader, sign-up form will not work. Go to this post itself to sign up.)

First photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Last photo compliments of Anna McParlan.


What Do You Say to that Voice that Wants You to Quit?

How many times do you need to respond to something in one particular (toxic) way before you notice a pattern?

With five kids, one of them still in diapers, my answer is usually “many.” But I’m pretty sure that before the five kids and before I had one in diapers the answer was still many.

We are creatures of habit, and we can be long in the habit-making before we realize that some of those habits have wrapped themselves around our air source.

One afternoon a week I sit down to write.

The babe’s down for his nap, the children are building forts in the woods and Nate is working from home with one eye on the computer while answering to shouts outside of “Daddy, we found a turtle. Come see!” and “Is it time for a snack, yet?” and “Can we ride bikes down the hill?”

It’s a rhythm.


I drive a few miles away to hide in a local coffee shop while they shout through the trees, and the baby monitor props on Nate’s desk, droning in the background.

My drive goes something like this: first, I remember the things left undone at home. Was the oven still on? I forgot to check Lily’s reading. Ooh, the bread for dinner is still in the freezer.

If unchecked, that line of thinking could move from: hmmm … should I just turn around? It’s a busy week …to … what I am thinking trying to add this creative exercise to an already long list of life?

If unchecked, I walk through the door of the coffee shop, order a chai and sit a little more slumped, a little less enthusiastic about my writing now that I’ve let myself be reminded of all that I’m missing by spending these few hours here.

Just like the week before, I open my computer, set the background music and I pray: Help, meet me Lord. This is You – by You, for You, to You. I see the girl two tables over, also writing away on her computer. A paper, maybe, or a book? She looks intent and if I’ve allowed this rut of unfettered thoughts, I’m susceptible. “The world doesn’t need another writer,” I could think about myself. “There are so many people saying something … anything … why do I want to add my voice to that noise?”

If I don’t remember to quiet this voice because now I’m too far in, believing it, I befriend it, openly.

Ice Evergreen Cherish

I could stare at the screen, and the writing idea that had been bumping around in my mind for days suddenly seems foolish. I’m my own opponent now. You’re just wasting time. You’re too young to write, anyways, and in the wrong generation — the best books are from long-dead people who didn’t have Facebook. You’re gonna look back on this years from now and wish you never wrote it but it’ll be cached somewhere forever. I had a page of notes and I cross a line right through them, tattoo it with FAILED.

I’m better off just reading today, I’d reason — and so join the throngs of writers and painters and accountants and schoolteachers and photographers and mothers who on this one very day forfeit God’s display of glory through them in exchange for a lie from the enemy.

You see all this? I’ve let you into a toxic habit that He has been gently healing over the course of years. But could this also be you?

Mothers who send their children on the school bus only to walk back down the driveway in shame at the tone they used just five minutes earlier — I knew I’d never be a good mother to this child. And mamas who educate at home, exhaustedly declare to themselves: I’m ruining my kids, just like I feared I would, as their unfettered self-analysis.

Photographers and painters and musicians who got all geared up (equipment in tow) for an afternoon of playing with God — only to come home empty-handed. If I can’t get it just right, I’m not ready to try and I surely can’t get it just right today, we reason.

Bankers and lawyers and architects who showed up to work with an empty cup in hand, wondering who might validate this vocation about which they’re passionate, but who are still spending every day’s commute considering quitting because they aren’t hitting the achievement marks they thought they would be by now.

Business owners whose sales this year were less than last’s — but who hired one more employee. Who was I kidding to think I’d make this idea work? I knew it — I’m just an irresponsible kid underneath this suit is the unspoken anthem ringing through the back of their head. Missionaries who’ve not yet seen one heart turn to Jesus, say to themselves: I knew I should have kept my salaried job. I wasn’t made for this.


If we’re honest, most of us struggle with the business of this particular kind of habit-making in at least one area of our lives.

Except, can I remind you of the secret that might just change your morning commute?

When we shelf that boldly-vulnerable expression of ourselves because this shameful lie spoke louder, we have missed a meeting with God.

The accusations in your head aren’t the personal report-card you thought they were, they are arrows from an enemy who’s hounding your life and your pursuit of God. He’s found your weak spots — you know, the ones that were maybe even pre-purposed for the greatest glory of God in your life — and you’ve been duped. The enemy is, after all, a thief and destroyer of what is good.

There are closets full of half-painted canvas and electronic files of never re-opened stories and dusty dreams you once dreamt for your children that are awaiting revival from Him. ‘Cause when we shelf that boldly-vulnerable expression of ourselves because this shameful lie spoke louder, we are missing a meeting with God.

We’ve created a call-and-response with shame — we hear the lie and respond with a resignation letter — and all the while He’s inviting: engage with Me in the place where you feel most ashamed and I’ll breathe my Truth over your dark thoughts.

Friends, our closets are full of lost art not because we need a different hobby or career or life-expression but because we need to open our mouths and partner with God.

Trees Cherish

Use your voice.

Before my toes even feel the cold morning floor I have to use my voice to declare His Word over me if I’m going to live on the offense.

At the break of day, noon, night and a dozen times in between, His Word is your weapon. Use it. Read it. Say it. Sing it. We can’t just clean the house of our minds and expect sustained clean-thinking without filling it with Truth. To live and thrive in God in this age, amidst all the competing noise and voices (the worst of which are in our heads), we will have to find a new way to engage with His Word.

Give yourself permission to try a new approach. Dust off your Bible and make it your food. You can’t live without it.

Glass Mug Cherish


(Before long, it won’t just be your dreams that die if this Word doesn’t have a PICC line into your veins. The enemy — that voice — is after more than just having you quit your dreams; he wants you to quit God.)

Pick up your paint brush again (or your spreadsheet or camera) as an act of warfare while your voice — singing His Word — echoes against the walls. Don’t hasten away from that place or space that’s caused all this internal commotion: lean into it. With Him.

You wanna know what this looks like for me? I’m writing another book. Yeesh. I didn’t just say that but now I wrote it.  (Cached forever, right?) Though the contract was signed a while back, I get to sign up again with my heart and my pen and say “I will not succumb to the enemy’s pursuit of my heart. I’m gonna bring Him glory here.”

Over the months ahead I’ll share a few more details that I don’t share on the blog, as well as some of my favorite things in a monthly email to those who opt in. Sign up here to find me occasionally in your inbox…

Get a few extra thoughts from me in a monthly email
I love handwritten notes, but this is the next best thing.
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

For Your Continued Pursuit (cause I don’t want you to just take my word for it): Romans 8:33-34 | 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 | Ephesians 6:10-16 | James 4:7 | 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 | 1 John 4:4-6 | James 4:7 | Psalm 89:1 | Isaiah 26:3 | Revelation 12:10 | Zechariah 3:1 NIV | 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 | 1 Peter 5:8-11 | John 10:10 | Matthew 12:43-45

Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.



It Takes Work to Rest

It’s a radiant four pm. The counters are wiped, slick. The sink is empty and dinner is simmering next to my teapot, also humming. The children are willingly lost in the woods out back and the babe still asleep. I can’t smell anyone’s afternoon sweat and there’s not a disparate sock in sight. The only smell in my house, aside from dinner, is the new candle I lit to memorialize afternoons like this one.

I sink into my chair, alone, with a book and my Bible and I’m ready to receive all that the next full hour of rest has for me.

This is you, too, right? “Once every three and a half months,” you answer, if you’re like me.

Except in my mind’s eye. If there is room for fantasy for a mother of five who moonlights as a writer, this would be my daily fantasy: {continue reading over here —>}